My Pro-Tips for YAPC First-Comers
Edits: Incorporate information mentioned in the comments: the Evil Green Stuff tradition (as mentioned by dams), and the Hallway++ initiative (as mentioned by mst).
Woe, woe is me, as after two years of YAPC, meddling circumstances force me to skip attendance this year. Still, I am extremely pleased to know that $workplace is still sending one of our young Padawans into the fray. Yesterday he was asking me if I had any tips, survival strategies or any words of wisdom for his upcoming first YAPC experience. So here goes:
He Who Studies the Menu Beforehand Will Gorge Himself More Thoroughly
The YAPC::NA website is the quintessal source of all information. Before engaging on your journey to YAPC itself, I highly recommend that you look at the schedule of talks and already piece a tentative program together. Of course, the idea is not to obey it slavishly forever after, but it's sure going to cut a lot on the "OMG what do I want to see next?" inter-talk angst.
Talking of Gorging Oneself... Arrival Feast!
The peeps who are already there on the day before the conference proper always gather up for an informal supper. This year, it seems that the conference overseers have already reserved a place. In fact, a second group as organized a vegetarian counter-part as well. In both cases, if you don't have a car, don't fret. Just make sure to hang at the meeting point at the right times, keep your ears open, and make periodic sounds to the effects that you need a lift.
Talking of Talking... Talk! To Peeps! All the Peeps!
YAPCs are delightfully non-hierarchical and, indeed, one of the big raison d'être of such an event is to expand one's social network. So don't be afraid to speak to and engage people. Yes, that means Larry Wall himself (who, incidentally, is one of the nicest man ever).
And if you are the shy type, I'm going to let you on a little secret: in crowds and unknown company, I'm myself a fairly quiet and reserved guy. Knowing that, in conferences I make special efforts to hang in the hallway / hover around he coffee spot / casually drift around discussion groups. Sooner or later somebody is going to break the ice. Heck, it could even be you. :-)
Update: if you look in the comments, you'll see that this year there is an initiative called Hallway++ to make that breaking the ice thing even easier. Basically, if you see a 'Hallway++' sign anywhere, it means that you are actively welcome to join the discussion at any time. Likewise, scribbling a 'Hallway++' on your badge will means "Hi! Feel free to chit-chat with me!" -- think of it as flipping on the socialite bit on your YAPC packet header.
Not All the Fun Happen in Meatspace
If you have a computer with you, consider hanging on the conference IRC channel. I didn't do it last time, and I'm still kicking myself.
BOFs - Not Related to the BoFH in Any Way
BOFs (Birds of a Feather) are unofficial meetings called by conference attendees revolving a particular thing. Some of them are just plain ol' fun (e.g., bad movie night), some of them are more "serious" (e.g. Perl Jobs or the Perl 5 Porters). To see the BOFs already there and/or to submit your own, visit the YAPC wiki.
Lightning Talks Are Just Unadulterated Fun
Don't miss a single one.
Network & Gather Seeds
I typically don't expect to do any "hard learning" at YAPC. I rather use my time and choose my talks to get a feeling of what is up and coming in the Perl world (and then I do the hard learning when I'm back at home). In the same vein, if two talks conflict, remember that more often than not the slides of both are going to be available afterward, so aim to go to the one that is going to benefit more of a live presentation.
Take a Woobly Walk on the Wild, Decidedly Frenchie, Side
Almost 10 years ago, Philippe 'BooK' Bruhat instaured the tradition to bring a bottle of Chartreuse (also refered to as the Evil Green Stuff) to YAPC. Where the fiendish liquid is ultimately consumated is always a closely garded mystery... but if you are interested, nay, dare, to partake into those web-safely colored libations, stalk and conspirationaly quizz BooK or any member of the French cabal (they're easy to spot: they're the ones with the funny accent).
Most Important Directive: Have Fun
YAPC is also that three days in the year where the Tribe reunite and rekindle the love. Mind you, sometimes the rekindling doesn't go without a scorching or two but, hey, at the end we almost always find a way to reconcile our differences. And when we don't... well, we just bury the bodies where they'll never be found and move the next YAPC to a different city. ;-)
In all cases, go ahead: take a deep breath, open your arms, and let the whole experience wash over you. Trust me, you'll like it.